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Distinguishing rhetorical from ironical questions

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Abstract

This chapter seeks to differentiate ironical questions from rhetorical questions, as they are often thought to share apparent similarities. Ironical questions are often taken as types of rhetorical questions because they orient towards an obvious answer and have some persuasive power. A relevance-theoretic account, however, shows that ironical questions result in different interpretive effects from those rhetorical questions yield. While rhetorical questions intentionally assert an implicit proposition bearing relevance, in ironical questions such a proposition is not relevant in itself, though it is still communicated. Ironical questions are contextually inaccurate and do not satisfy expectations of optimal relevance. The contextual absurdity of pragmatic expectations gives rise to specific attitudinal and non-propositonal effects.

References

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